On March 6, 2001, ten-year-old Rodney McAllister was mauled to death by a pack of stray dogs while playing in Ivory Perry Park across the street from his home in the Visitation Park neighborhood. On June 3, 2004, 16-year-old Dominic Williams was strangled, stripped and stuffed in a dumpster a few blocks from his foster home in the Walnut Park neighborhood.
Even though these two unrelated incidents happened a while ago, I can't get them out of my mind. These barbarically violent events didn't happen is some far-off, third-world country devastated by war or a natural disaster. They happened in St. Louis, the city I love, in the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world, less than 11 miles from my house. That's not OK. It's pretty freaking far from OK. It makes me cry and pisses me off at the same time. There are certain minimum standards for maintaining a civilized society, and making sure people aren't eaten alive by wild dogs is one of them.
There are some, perhaps a majority, who will say (at least to themselves), "Well, that's what happens to those people in those neighborhoods. It's their own fault, and they should take responsibility for their situation." But Rodney and Dominic were children. They certainly didn't do anything to deserve their brutish and short lives. Rodney spent time living in a homeless shelter and foster homes. He showed up at school on cold days with no coat or gloves. His mother, Gladys Loman, had a history of drug abuse and fled a weapons charge in Dunklin County. Dominic was born two months premature and addicted to drugs. He bounced around to different foster homes and group homes his whole life. For a while, he lived in a house without heat, electricity or a bed. His 34-year-old killer was a convicted sex offender and the son of an executed murderer.
Both Rodney and Dominic began the 40-yard dash of life ten yards behind the starting line with no shoes. The grown-ups in their lives failed them. We failed them. Their horrible deaths are a black mark against us all. We need to do better. Until it is safe for a child to walk down any street in our city alone, we have failed.
We don't have to go halfway around the world to find wrongs to right or people in need. There are plenty of evildoers right here at home. The global outpouring of support for the tsunami victims has been truly heartwarming, but smaller local tragedies go unnoticed everyday. The good news is that if we all chip in our time and money, Mound City can be a city on a hill, a model community that takes care of all of its people, especially the most vulnerable. Give meaning to Rodney and Dominic's senseless deaths by making 2005 the year that you get involved to make St. Louis a better place.